I returned to Edinburgh from the Continent at midnight last night and got up early to greet my mother, fresh from Canada. Oh, the social whirl.
Let me see. First we had a married, pregnant couple staying for a few days. Then we had Seminarian Pretend Son to stay for a few days, and he was somewhat surprised that I would leave for Belgium during his visit, poor lamb. But he was even more surprised to hear that the first wedding in our parish for six years was taking place on Wednesday.*
Yes! One of the traddy parishioners asked another of the traddy parishioners to marry him, and they got married on Wednesday morning at 10 AM in the tiny FSSP chapel. It was very romantic and I was delighted because I introduced him to her, and thus this is the first time in history (that I know of) that my matchmaking efforts actually worked.
When I read "July 1" on the invitation I shrieked, for I had bought a round-trip, no-refund ticket to Belgium, but happily my flight was not until 2 PM, so I had time to visit the bride before the wedding, go to the wedding, drink champagne and eat cake in the priest's drawing-room before rushing off the the airport. Thus, it was all lovely, and the bride rocked my wedding veil, which was her "something borrowed." In fact, she looked better in it than I did, and I reflected that I should have worn my hair in a proper bridal up-do. Well, too late now.
Anyway, I flew to Charleroi-Bruxelles Sud and spotted my brother waiting for me in the waiting area. I thought I was delighted, but then suddenly my legs were tackled on both sides, and I looked down to see my nephew and niece, and then I was really delighted. Poor Auntie Seraphic does not get such enthusiastic hugs, let alone kisses, that often, weep weep.
I spent many hours during the next four and a half days sitting between two children's seats in the back seat of the borrowed car, doing such useful aunt stuff as singing "Ostatnia Niedziela", which both niece and nephew found hilarious, mopping up dramatic water spills with my ankle-length linen skirt, and taking away a marble from my nephew because he put it in his mouth. Oh, on several occasions I also counted plastic models of the "Dalton Gang" from Lucky Luke to make sure we still had all four, and I invented a fun French vocabulary game, and in churches I taught my niece how to recognize statues of Our Lady and of Saints Peter and Paul.
We saw a lot of churches.
Let me see. On Wednesday, Nulli Secundus and Ma Belle Soeur picked me up and drive all the way to GHENT, where we ate supper and admired architecture. I stopped myself from answering Dutch greetings in Polish almost every time. Then we drove all the way to a village near Liege, where NS and MBS and their children were living. It was a very nice brick house with four bedrooms. The temperature was in the high 80s (i.e. 31 C).
Then on Thursday, to make up for the long journey to and from Ghent, we all drove to a nearby water park which was in one corner of a historical estate. NS, MBS and les enfants availed themselves of the swimming pools while I looked at the historical house, sniffed at its similarity to a barracks, and sat on a bench under a maple tree in the woods with a water bottle, a guide to Belgium and W Pustyni i w puszczy. The temperature was in the high 80s again, if not the low 90s. The car thermometer read 42 C before the air conditioning went back on. At lunch in a nearby tavern, I discovered that "kriek" is not pronounced "kree-ek", as one would think, having studied Polish for four years, but "kreek", being not Polish but Dutch. It is beer made from cherries (or other fruit, but mine was always of cherries) and drives away all care.
On Friday we went to COLOGNE, which made me very happy, for I went there nine years ago, and the attempted Cologne train bombing--which took place two days after my visit--was part of the inspiration for Ceremony of Innocence. Also, Saint Albert the Great is there in the crypt in St. Andreas, and on my last visit he listened very patiently to all my complaints about BC. Then, after seeing the great Cathedral, the Rhine, Big Saint Martin's, Saint Andreas (where I had another, much happier, conversation with Saint Albert) and a toy shop, we drove to AACHEN, which is the very pretty university town where Charlemagne is buried. He is in the Romanesque bit of an otherwise stupendously Gothic cathedral. The temperature was in the high 80s again, if not the low 90s.
On Saturday, to make up for the long journey to and from Cologne, we all went to LIEGE, for it was nearby and has parks in it. It also has graffiti and junkies, and as soon as I got there I pitied all the Liegeois for not living in Brussels or being German and living in Aachen instead. Nothing could induce me to live in Liege, but I had a kriek at lunch which greatly dulled the pain, and when we went to the village ice-cream garden on the way home, I had another one. It was about 36 C, which is about 90 F.
Then on Sunday we all got up before 7 AM, for with a shining fanatical light in my eyes, I had informed my relations that there was an FSSP Mass in NAMUR at 10 AM, and I was going to go to it if I had to take a bus or train (mule, roller skates, space ship...). And, lo, we were all in a patisserie at the base of the Citadel in Namur by 9:15 AM, scarfing croissants while Auntie Seraphic fussed about getting to Mass on time.
Well! We did not get to Mass on time, for NS and I got lost as soon as the non-Catholic MBS dropped us off, but we found the chapel just as the choir had begun the Kyrie, so I ceased my complaints about the Belgian bishops, whom I blamed for the lack of signage, as well as the near-total collapse of Catholicism in Belgium, euthanasia and worse, and was just terribly happy. (When lost in the woods with a Mad Trad, find an FSSP chapel ASAP and chuck them in. Then she/he will be all smiles.)
I'm not sure what the others did, but they entertained themselves in some secular, child-centered way until we all found each other again (long story involving the Citadel having more than one road down) and went to BRUSSELS.
Brussels is beautiful. I think it might be more beautiful than Cologne, even though it isn't on the Rhine. It has a lot of beautiful baroque architecture, picked out in gold, and there is a proper king and queen in it. Like everywhere else in Belgium, it has frites and kriek, which I drank again, plus a Magritte museum, where we amused ourselves in between bouts of church-visiting. It also has narrow sloping streets lined with chocolate shops and a little statue of a rude little boy behaving very rudely. I suspect my nephew was mystified by all these adults being so amused at a statue doing something for which he himself would be bellowed at for half an hour. However, if such thoughts did occupy his mind, they were soon driven away by a bar of nut-free chocolate bought in "Mary". The rest of us ate dangerous nutty chocolate with impunity. Then we went to the airport, where I was enthusiastically hugged once and twice more before I rushed off to security.
So that was my trip. It was very hot, which was a nice change from Scottish weather, and I enjoyed seeing my brother and his family very much. They usually took hours to get organized in the morning, so I sat in whatever breeze I could find reading my daily page of Sienkiewicz and looking up dozens of words in the dictionary; I enjoyed that, too.
I learned that Aachen and Brussels are worth seeing again, and that Liege isn't. (Sorry, Liege. I do realize that the 20th century was unkind.) I also got some insight into what it is like to travel about Europe when you have two proper incomes and two children. (It helps, though, when you both speak French and German.) Truly, people with children are entirely different from the nulliparous, be we married or single. For one thing, they have to park and eat in the most expensive places, i.e. near the top tourists sites, for small children either can't or won't walk long distances.
At any rate, I will talk more about Compassion for Parents later. Hopefully it will clear up some of the mystery of why Married-People-With-Children seem to freeze out their Old-Single-Childless- Friends, and inspire you to feel compassion, which feels good, instead of envy and resentment, which feel rotten.
*As the Schola will debate this reckoning, I will clarify that this was the first wedding between weekly parishioners since B.A. and I got married, if I could already be deemed a weekly parishioner. If not, this was the first marriage between weekly parishioners within living memory. It was certainly the first-ever wedding in the wee FSSP chapel.
Update: I wore sunscreen, a very big floppy hat, a silk scarf, socks, ballet flats, short sleeves, and voluminous skirts every day, and drank gallons of water. Thus I did not get tanned, sunburned or overheated and will not age as quickly as those foolish Belgian girls who ran around in bikinis while scarfing frites in 36 C weather.